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For other uses, see Expatriate (disambiguation).
Expatriate French voters queue in Lausanne, Switzerland for the first round of the presidential election of 2007

An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship.

In common usage, the term often refers to professionals or skilled workers sent abroad by their companies.[1] However, it can also refer to retirees and others who have chosen to live outside their native country. Historically, it has also referred to exiles.[2]


The word expatriate comes from the Latin terms ex ("out of") and patria ("native country, fatherland"). Dictionary definitions for the current meaning of the word include:

  • 'A person who lives outside their native country' (Oxford),[2] or
  • 'living in a foreign land' (Webster's).[3]

These contrast with definitions of other words with a similar meaning, such as:

  • 'A person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions' (Oxford),[4] or
  • 'one that migrates: such as a: a person who moves regularly in order to find work especially in harvesting crops' (Webster's).[5]
  • 'A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country' (Oxford),[6] or
  • 'one that immigrates: such as a: a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence (Webster's).[7]

The varying use of these terms for different groups of foreigners can thus be seen as implying nuances about wealth, intended length of stay, perceived motives for moving, nationality, and even race. This has caused controversy.[8][9][10]

An older usage of the word expatriate was to refer to an exile.[2] Alternatively, used as a verb, expatriate can mean the action of someone renouncing allegiance to their native country, as referred to by the United States Expatriation Act of 1868 which says in its preamble, 'the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'[11]

Some neologisms have been coined, including:

  • flexpatriate, someone who frequently travels overseas to work (see below);
  • inpatriate, an employee sent from a foreign subsidiary to work in the country where a business is headquartered;[12][13]
  • rex-pat, a repeat expatriate, often someone who has chosen to return to a foreign country after completing a work assignment;[14][15]
  • sexpat, a sex tourist.[16]


Ever since travel became easier in the 19th century by way of steamship or train, various groups of people have chosen to live temporarily in foreign countries, or been sent there by employers. The table below aims to show significant examples of such groups.

Group Period Countries of origin Destination Host country Notes
Beat Generation 1950s United States Tangier Morocco
Beat Generation 1960s United States Paris France See Beat Hotel.
British Raj 1858-1947 United Kingdom India Civil servants, soldiers, missionaries and planters.
British retirees 1970s-now United Kingdom Costa del Sol Spain Arguably immigrants if permanent.
British retirees current United Kingdom Dordogne France Arguably immigrants if permanent.
Celebrities and artists 1800s-now various Lake Geneva Switzerland
Jet set 1950s-1970s various
Shanghai French Concession 1863-1943 France Shanghai China
Shanghai International Settlement 1863-1945 United Kingdom Shanghai China Preceded by British Concession
Shanghai International Settlement 1863-1945 United States Shanghai China Preceded by American Concession.
Lost Generation 1920s-30s United States Paris France See A Moveable Feast.
Modernist artists & writers 1870s-1930s various French Riviera France
Tax exiles 1860s(?)-now various Monte Carlo Monaco
Third culture kids current various various Includes 'military brats' and 'diplobrats'.

During the 1930s, Nazi Germany revoked the citizenship of many opponents, such as Albert Einstein, Oskar Maria Graf, Willy Brandt and Thomas Mann, often expatriating entire families.[17][18]

The number of expatriates in the world is difficult to determine. In 2013, the United Nations estimated that 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world population, lived outside their home country.[19]

Countries whose populations have a high proportion of foreign workers include:

  • United Arab Emirates, where the population of Dubai is predominantly composed of foreign passport holders from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and the Western world. In 2007, only 20 per cent of Dubai's population were citizens.[20]
  • Singapore, where 40 per cent of the inhabitants were foreign-born workers, professionals or students in 2014.[21]

Business expatriates[edit]

Many multinational corporations send employees to foreign countries to work in branch offices or subsidiaries. Expatriate employees allow a parent company to more closely control its foreign subsidiaries. They can also improve global coordination.[22]

However, expatriate professionals are often more expensive than local employees. Expatriate salaries are often augmented with allowances to compensate for a higher cost of living or hardships associated with a foreign posting. Other expenses may need to be paid, such as health care, housing, or fees at an international school. There is also the cost of moving a family and their belongings. Another problem can be government restrictions in the foreign country.[23][24]

Spouses may have trouble adjusting due to culture shock, the loss of their usual social network, interrupting their own career, and helping children cope with a new school. These are chief reasons given for foreign assignments ending early.[25] However, a spouse can also act as a source of support for an expatriate professional.[26] Some corporations have begun to include spouses earlier when making decisions about a foreign posting, and offer coaching or adjustment training before a family departs.[citation needed] According to the 2012 Global Relocation Trends Survey Report, 88 per cent of spouses resist a proposed move. The most common reasons for refusing an assignment are family concerns and the spouse's career.[27][28][29]

Expatriate failure is a term which has been coined for an employee returning prematurely to their home country, or resigning. One study found that the expatriate failure rate is put at 20 to 40 per cent by 69 per cent of executives with multinational corporations.[24]

Recent trends[edit]

Trends in recent years among business expatriates have included:

  • Short-term assignments becoming more common.[30][27] These are assignments of several months to a year which rarely require the expatriate family to move. They can include specific projects, technology transfer, or problem-solving tasks.[27]
  • 'Self-initiated expatriation', where individuals themselves arrange a contract to work overseas, rather than being sent by a parent company to a subsidiary.[31][32][33][34][35]An 'SIE' typically does not require as big a compensation package as does a traditional business expatriate. Also, spouses of SIEs are less reluctant to interrupt their own careers, at a time when dual-career issues are arguably shrinking the pool of willing expatriates.[36]
  • Commuter assignments which involve employees living in one country but travelling to another for work. This usually occurs on a weekly or biweekly rotation, with weekends spent at home.[27]
  • 'Flexpatriates', international business travellers who take a plethora of short trips to locations around the globe for negotiations, meetings, training and conferences. These assignments are usually of several weeks duration each. Their irregular nature can cause stress within a family.[27]
  • Increased scholarship and research. For instance, Emerald Group Publishing in 2013 launched The Journal of Global Mobility: The home of expatriate management research.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Castree, Noel; Rob Kitchen; Alisdair Rogers. A Dictionary of Human Geography (1 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199599868. 
  2. ^ a b c "Definition of expatriate in English". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  3. ^ "Definition of expatriate". Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  4. ^ "Definition of migrant in English:". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  5. ^ "Definition of migrant". Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  6. ^ "Definition of immigrant in English". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  7. ^ "Definition of immigrant". Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  8. ^ Koutonin, Mawuna Remarque (13 March 2015). "Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  9. ^ DeWolf, Christopher (29 December 2014). "In Hong Kong, Just Who Is an Expat, Anyway?". The Wall Street Journal. News Corp. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  10. ^ Tulshyan, Ruchika (2 April 2015). "'Expat' Under Fire: The Word Is Not Racist, Argues A Global Nomad (subscription required)". The Wall Street Journal. News Corp. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  11. ^ United States Revised Statutes, Sec. 1999.
  12. ^ "inpatriate". Wiktionary. Wikimedia Foundation. 4 January 2017. Retrieved 21 February 2017. 
  13. ^ Reiche, Sebastian (22 January 2014). "Inpatriates: On the Term and Academic Findings". IESE Business School. University of Navarra. Retrieved 21 February 2017. 
  14. ^ Drew, Kevin (5 October 2004). "Rex-patriate games: Film takes humorous look at moving - and staying - abroad". CNN. Time Warner. 
  15. ^ "rex-patriate". Wiktionary. Wikimedia Foundation. 17 July 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2017. 
  16. ^ "sexpat". Wiktionary. Wikimedia Foundation. 29 July 2016. Retrieved 21 February 2017. 
  17. ^ Siegfried Grundmann, The Einstein Dossiers: Science and Politics—Einstein's Berlin Period, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer Verlag (2004), p. 294. Translated by Ann M. Hentschel. ISBN 3-540-25661-X. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  18. ^ Oskar Maria Graf timeline: expatriated 1934 Archived 1 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine., Kritikatur – Die Welt der Literatur. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  19. ^ "More people than ever living outside their home country". Daily Mail. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  20. ^ "Moving To Dubai". ExpatForum.com. 2007. Retrieved 5 September 2007. 
  21. ^ "Singapore Expat Communities". InterNations. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  22. ^ Chew, J (2004). Research and Practice in Human Resource Management. pp. 1–30. 
  23. ^ Gomez-Mejia, Luis; Balkin, David; Cardy, Robert (2007). Managing Human Resources. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. pp. 544–5. ISBN 0-13-187067-X. 
  24. ^ a b Kraimer, M (2016). "Themes in Expatriate and Repatriate Research over Four Decades: What Do We Know and What Do We Still Need to Learn?". Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior. 
  25. ^ Pilenzo, R (September 2013). "DOES CULTURE REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN EXPAT ASSIGNMENTS?". Expatriates Magazine (2): 4. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. 
  26. ^ Lauring, J., & Selmer, J. 2010. The supportive expatriate spouse: An ethnographic study of spouse involvement in expatriate careers. International Business Review, 19(1): 59-69.
  27. ^ a b c d e Thomas, David (2014). Essentials of International Human Resource Management. London: SAGE. pp. 188–189. ISBN 978-1-4129-9591-7. 
  28. ^ Thomas, David (2014). Essentials of International Human Resource Management. London: SAGE. pp. 190–193. ISBN 978-1-4129-9591-7. 
  29. ^ "Expats: What can happen if you don't keep in touch". world2nzgifts.com/pages/media. 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  30. ^ Collings, D. G.; Scullion, H.; Morley, M. J. (2007). "Changing patterns of global staffing in the multinational enterprise: Challenges to the conventional expatriate assignment and emerging alternatives". Journal of World Business. 42 (2): 198. doi:10.1016/j.jwb.2007.02.005. 
  31. ^ Inkson, K.; Arthur, M. B.; Pringle, J.; Barry, S. (1997). "Expatriate assignment versus overseas experience: Contrasting models of international human resource development". Journal of World Business. 32 (4): 351. doi:10.1016/S1090-9516(97)90017-1. 
  32. ^ "Self-initiated expatriates (SIEs)". FELOresearch.info. 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  33. ^ Andresen, M., Bergdolt, F., & Margenfeld, J. 2012. What distinguishes self-initiated expatriates from assigned expatriates and migrants? A literature-based definition and differentiation of terms. In M. Andresen, A. A. Ariss, M. Walther, & K. Wolff (Eds.), Self-initiated expatriation: Individual, organizational and national perspectives: Routledge.
  34. ^ Inkson, K., & Myers, B. A. 2003. "The big OE": self-directed travel and career development. Career Development International, 8(4): 170-181.
  35. ^ Selmer, J., & Lauring, J. 2010. Self-initiated academic expatriates: Inherent demographics and reasons to expatriate. European Management Review, 7(3): 169-179.
  36. ^ Tharenou, P. 2013. Self-initiated expatriates: An alternative to company-assigned expatriates? Journal of Global Mobility, 1(3): 336-356.
  37. ^ Arp, Frithjof; Hutchings, Kate; Smith, Wendy A. (2013). "Foreign executives in local organisations: An exploration of differences to other types of expatriates". Journal of Global Mobility. 1 (3): 312–335. doi:10.1108/JGM-01-2013-0006. 
  38. ^ Arp, Frithjof (2014). "Emerging giants, aspiring multinationals and foreign executives: Leapfrogging, capability building, and competing with developed country multinationals". Human Resource Management. 53 (6): 851–876. doi:10.1002/hrm.21610. 
  39. ^ "Foreign Executives in Local Organisations". FELOresearch.info. 2012. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  40. ^ Arp, Frithjof (2013). "Typologies: What types of foreign executives are appointed by local organisations and what types of organisations appoint them?". German Journal of Research in Human Resource Management / Zeitschrift für Personalforschung. 27 (3): 167–194. doi:10.1688/1862-0000_ZfP_2013_03_Arp. 
  41. ^ EmeraldInsight

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